She Reinvented Herself from Banking to Painting

Jun 22, 2018 | Seven Things

Painting became Kathryn Gray’s saving grace after an unfortunate turn of events in her life.

Kathryn Gray, known as Louisville’s Wedding Painter, has a remarkable story of resilience, strength, and perseverance. About three years ago, when the banking industry took a turn, Kathryn was forced to completely reinvent herself. Her former husband was a banker, and changes in the market forced them to have to sell their home and most of their belongings and change everything about their lifestyle in order to survive.

“Basically I had to start my entire life all over,” Kathryn says. “Everything I had worked for, everything I had dreamed of, everything I wanted…life was just really, really good and it was like someone pulled the rug right out from under me…having to start all over after I worked that hard for so many years was just really tough.”

As a child she was always interested in drawing. Her teachers even told her mother how advanced her art was for her age. In high school, after moving to Louisville from upstate New York, Kathryn’s mother enrolled her in a painting class.

“I wasn’t real happy because I left all of my friends behind, so my mother signed me up for art classes after school, oil painting specifically, and I just fell in love with it,” Kathryn says. “That was kind of like my therapy, it was my everything.”

In college, she initially followed in her two brothers’ footsteps majoring in landscape architecture. She soon realized this wasn’t the correct path for her. Kathryn decided to switch gears and majored in interior design with a minor in creative writing. Although Kathryn did not major in art in college, she always carried her passion for art and painting throughout her life, and continued practicing in her free time.

For years, Kathryn worked as an interior designer. Just before her life drastically changed, she had retired from interior design in order to pursue her true passion, painting. She first focused on just creating art, but then shifted to teaching painting classes full time. She began by teaching a few friends how to paint, and today she teaches 60 students per week at her own facility, Gray Gallery + Studio.

“Design is not the glamorous job it is made out to be, and it’s very, very stressful…there’s no stress involved here [as an art teacher],” Kathryn says. “I close the door, we all laugh and have a great time, and then I close the door and go home.”

Recently, Kathryn expanded her painting repertoire to become Louisville’s Wedding Painter.

“I’d heard about it when I was married and had my home, gardens, and kids. I just thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to spend my weekends out painting,’” Kathryn says. “Then when my world changed and I was single and needed money. I had a friend who had a pop-up wedding disguised as a 40th birthday party, and I live-painted the scene, and I just had so much fun doing it.”

As Louisville’s Wedding Painter, Kathryn paints live at weddings, usually capturing the reception, cake cutting, or first dance. She begins the process with a consultation with the bride to gain basic information about what scene she would like to capture and who some of the key people are. She then paints live for about two hours at the wedding. During this time, her fiancé David captures photos of the event for Kathryn to refer to. A few weeks later, she revisits the painting and adds finishing touches.

“There was one wedding I did recently, and I can’t explain what it was about it, but everything was just glowing,” Kathryn says. “Any woman coming to the wedding, even if they weren’t in the wedding party, could wear the same blush pink dress, so all kinds of relatives were wearing this beautiful pink dress and all of the men were in black tie, so the room was just beautiful! The family were all really close, and you could just sense it. That’s what I wanted to capture.”

Despite the difficulties Kathryn has faced in recent years, she has created a life for herself doing what she loves every day and spreading positivity everywhere she goes.

“My students all say that I’m an inspiration because I was sort of like The Unsinkable Molly Brown — , I just wouldn’t give up. My girlfriends always said I would rise to the occasion and what I had to do next. I want to try to be inspirational and encourage people to make a change if they think they need to.”

The ups and downs of Kathryn’s life in recent years have developed a deeper appreciation for the seven things she can’t live without. She refers to these seven things as her “inspiration palette.”

Art 

It’s clear that art, especially painting, has played a huge role in Kathryn’s life. Whether doing it professionally or for enjoyment, it has always been a constant.

“If you’re born an artist you have to create or it’s like not breathing,” Kathryn says.

The Elements of Nature

Kathryn spends as much time as possible outside. Her upbringing is a direct reflection of her love of the great outdoors.

“I grew up near the Adirondack Mountains in a little town with a lake,” Kathryn says. “My parents were very outdoorsy so we spent all of our time outdoors. In the winter it would be snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In the summer, it would be sailing and canoeing, and we’d go hiking and mountain climbing through the white mountains in New Hampshire. I climbed Mount Washington for the first time when I was 7 years old and I’ve climbed it two other times.”

Chardonnay

“That’s the only alcohol I drink, and I just love it so much…It’s dry, crisp, and light. I have a favorite one, Far Niente. It’s so expensive I can’t afford it, but I had it once on a trip to Hawaii…it was so good. I can live without it because I can’t afford it, but I would say Sonoma-Cutrer would probably be the Chardonnay I actually drink and can’t live without.”

France

“I did live without travel in those lean years, but what I did to be able to afford to continue to travel during those years was this: I organized a trip to take students…we always stopped in Paris. I love Paris. I’ve been there eight times,” Kathryn says. “[My fiancé] David and I just visited and that’s where we got engaged. He proposed right under the Eiffel Tower.”

Kathryn gets in some cuddle time with her dog Winston.

Golden Retrievers

“Everyone who knows me knows I am the biggest dog lover ever,” Kathryn says. Golden Retrievers hold a special place in her heart. Several generations of her family have had Golden Retrievers as pets. She loves their loyalty and the sense of comfort they bring her.

Wedges

Kathryn doesn’t just express her creativity through her job. She also loves a good, cute pair of shoes to amp up her wardrobe.

“Because I work on my feet a lot, but I like cute shoes, I love wedges. I have a pair of Donald Pliner and Tory Burch wedges that I live in. They’re just so easy to stand on all day.”

Local Businesses

Louisville is full of fabulous, locally-owned businesses. Owning a business herself, Kathryn likes to spread the love and support her fellow local business owners any chance she gets. Primp Style Salon, 211 Clover Lane, and Snips are a few of her favorites.

Primp Style Salon is Kathryn’s go-to styling salon for any event or special occasion she attends.

211 Clover Lane, located in the same facility as Kathryn’s studio, is a frequent lunch spot for her.

“They treat me like family,” Kathryn says. “When it’s cold and snowy they’ll bring us over lunch and sometimes they’ll just bring over a bottle of wine. When we go over there they’ll rearrange the tables however we need them. They’re so sweet.”

Kathryn says she has been visiting Lorie at Snips for years to take care of her regular haircut and color.

Kathryn stands with her fiancé David at the Eiffel Tower right after he proposed. Photo by Romain with We Shoot Paris.

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